Tuesday, August 16, 2011

TOP STORY >> Lonoke jail welcomes visitors to new facility

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County officials, civic leaders and residents went inside the new $6.2 million Lonoke County Sheriff Detention Center without being arrested first during a ribbon-cutting and tour of the facility Tuesday.

The sheriff’s office will move 70 inmates into the state-of-the art, highly secure detention center today. Circuit Court Judge Sandy Huckabee will be the first judge to hold a court appearance at the center’s new courtroom Friday.

The facility, at the end of Dee Dee Lane, has 136 beds, replacing the old jail built to hold 68. Planning for the new jail began 16 years ago in 1995. The new jail was constructed and paid for from the start with a one-cent, county-wide sales tax collected for only one year. The detention center was built for future expansion to hold an additional 120 inmates.

Building the detention center took 18 months. The center was built with 20 concrete modular units built by Fibrebond of Minden, La. Each unit weighs 50,000-pounds and contains two jail cells that were assembled with plumbing installed and finished in five days at the Louisiana plant. The units arrived at the detention center site on a flat-bed truck. The detention center has 22 miles of concrete and 29 miles of steel.

Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin thanked the citizens of Lonoke County for funding the facility.

Austin Police Chief John Staley said, “We will now have a place to put people we arrest, because no fault to the sheriff before, but they were at capacity. It was old and dilapidated. We were having to take inmates to White County and Faulkner County. Now this opens a place for us in our county.”

Ward Police Chief Steve Benton was very impressed with the facility and said it is a great benefit for law enforcement in Lonoke County.

Patrol Sgt. Dennis Sanderson with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office said the new detention center provides additional jobs and has more space.

Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson said, “It is a good day for the county. The detention center is able to hold more inmates. It is safer for the jail staff. It turned out well.”

Lonoke Circuit Court Judge Barbara Elmore thought having a courtroom at the detention center was a good plan. She said deputies will no longer have to transport inmates in high-profile cases to the Lonoke County Courthouse. Elmore said it lessen the danger as emotions can run high during court proceedings. She said there is less risk of escape and less chance of contraband being passed to an inmate through the courtroom.

Staying at the jail will cost $36 a day for agencies outside of Lonoke County and for cities in Lonoke County holding inmates with misdemeanors or waiting for a first appearance.

Improvements over the old county jail include a medical exam room staffed with a nurse. A kitchen was built to save on food cost of feeding inmates. The kitchen has a commercial oven to bake breads, cookies and cakes from scratch.

The jail has an ice maker can make 100 pounds of ice in an hour. The county spent $80 a week for ice from retailers for inmates at the old jail. The kitchen will be staffed with four or five state work-release inmates. The state pays the county to hold Arkansas Department of Correction inmates in the Lonoke detention center.

The center will have 19 jailers; four on duty during day and three at night, along with a sergeant, two administrators and two transport officers. Jailer will work 12-hours shifts; four hours at the book-in area, four hours at the master control and four hours roaming the detention center.

The jail has working room for seven detectives 13 offices for the sheriff and staff, and four evidence rooms.